Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Wordsmiths at Work

I really feel for people who started life using another language, who are then required to be up to date on every nuance introduced into their adopted language from dozens of different sources. I almost go woozy myself listening to people describe new phone apps or internet sites.
The political world does more than its share of this kind of linguistic riffing. For instance, there's the comeback of  "etch-a-sketch". It was originally a toy which hit the market sometime in the 60's or 70's that presented the user with the challenge of using two dials in conjunction to create a single line which might become a picture. Making a diagonal line was quite a challenge, and making a circle was nearly impossible, but the device's saving grace was the ease of starting over by simply giving it a shake or two. It was a big seller, though I can't explain just why.
Now, decades later, a Romney staffer uses the term "etch-a-sketch" in a kind of cynical way, suggesting that convictions expressed during the GOP primary season, when the audience skews hard (hard!) right, can be simply dumped in the general election campaign, when a broader range of ideology is needed to get elected.
Is it really that easy, especially when there are cameras and recorders whirring every moment the candidate is on stage making his pitch? Sure, almost all people contradict themselves from time to time, but getting caught in the act isn't a political candidate's favorite moment. Naturally, the quicker the flip happens in real time, the more damning. I've even heard "etch-a-sketch" used this year as a verb, as in "He can etch a sketch his way out of this". I don't suppose you have to pay a royalty to the toymaker when referring to this phenomenon. Still, it makes you wonder if "hula hoop" will ever have a political meaning. "Slip 'n Slide" might have some potential.

The political wordsmiths are always trying to spin a term that gives a little edge. The right (and this is meant as a compliment) seems especially adept at this. Terms like "job creator", "death tax" and "pro-life" are just a few examples. "Obamacare" has become so common that it gets used by both sides.
The most used term, though, seems to be the tried and true - "war". There was the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and new skirmishes, hinted at but not proven, against Religion, Families, Women, and the entire Middle Class. That's a lot of wars, all looking for recruits to "fight" either for or against something. Gosh knows we use the term all the time in church, though the battles and casualties are largely symbolic in nature.
I think it does no harm to point out something that's actually aimed at either defending or changing something. Just looking at some numbers tells us that there is, for instance, far more energy directed at restricting certain medical procedures used exclusively by women than was the case just a few years ago. Could one cite what several states have tried to do in restricting the legal rights of public employee labor unions? I don't think it should be ignored. Still, I can't help thinking that real war is so horrific in nature that using the term in another context is a slap in the face of anyone who has ever faced enemy fire. Call something a "conflict" or a "controversy" or a "clash" or a "debate" if you must, but let's leave "war" as it is, the word that identifies the worst thing one society can visit upon another, before this unmistakable word loses all meaning.   



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